💎 On how we twist the facts to see what we want to see (personality tests)

Subjects were asked to complete a bogus personality test. The experimenter then gave them all exactly the same sketch of their personalities, which he claimed was based on their test results. When asked about the accuracy of the sketch, 90 per cent of the subjects thought it a very good or excellent description of themselves. People are so good at distorting material to fit their expectations that the identical sketch was thought by each of nearly fifty subjects to apply specifically to him or her.

In addition to trying unconsciously to confirm his or her beliefs, anyone who pays to see a fortune teller will have invested time and money: unless he has just gone for a lark, he will therefore want to feel he has got something out of it (misplaced consistency) and hence will be predisposed to believe what he hears.


💎 On the misattribution of arousal (she’s not that into you)

When experiencing heightened emotions, people often mistakenly attribute the cause of arousal to the wrong source. The mind does not make clear and accurate assessments of why we feel a certain mood.

In a famous experiment, young men were asked to cross a high, dangerous suspension bridge. Whilst on the bridge, they interacted with a young female experimenter who offered them the opportunity to call her afterwards to ‘further discuss the research’. The group who met the woman on a high, dangerous bridge showed a much higher propensity to call the woman afterwards vs the control group who met the same woman on a safe bridge. Men in the dangerous bridge condition mistook their high state of emotional arousal for romantic attraction.

Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy Change

💎 On the importance of brands signalling they’re interested in repeat business (tourist restaurant versus local pub)

What keeps the relationship honest, trusting and mutually beneficial is nothing other than the prospect of repetition.

In game theory, this prospect of repetition is known variously as ‘continuation probability’ or ‘w’. Robert Axelrod has poetically referred to it as ‘the shadow of the future’. It is agreed by both game theorists and evolutionary biologists that the prospects for cooperation are far greater when there is a high expectation of repetition than in single shot games. Clay Shirky has even described social capital as ‘the shadow of the future at a societal scale’. Yet businesses barely consider this at all (in fact procurement, by setting shorter and shorter contract periods, may be unwittingly working to reduce cooperation).

Yet there are, when you think about it, two different approaches to business. There is the ‘tourist restaurant’ approach, where you try to make as much money from people on their single visit. And then there is the ‘local pub’ approach, where you make less money from people on each visit, but you profit(?) more over time by encouraging people to come back. The second type business is much more likely to generate that + yield positive sum outcomes then the first.

Excerpt from: Eat Your Greens by Wiemer Snijders

💎 On our attention becoming scarcer in the age of information (inattention blindness)

In one study of simulated driving led by David Strayer and colleagues at the University of Utah, subjects talking on their phones “missed seeing up to 50 percent of their driving environments, including pedestrians and red lights.” (They were also ten times more likely to not stop at a stop sign.) Another experiment by Strayer and colleagues found that people talking on their phones had slower reaction times than drivers with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.

What causes these mental deficits? The scientists blame inattention blindness, which occurs whenever the amount of information streaming into the brain exceeds our ability to process it.

Excerpt from: The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi and Jonah Lehrer

💎 On our tendency for lower comprehension of texts when read online versus in printed media (keep it simple)

In 1985, at the dawn of the computer age, the psychologist Susan Belmore conducted a simple experiment on twenty undergraduates at the University of Kentucky. The students were exposed to eight different short texts and then asked to answer a series of questions about what they’d just read. Four of the passages appeared on paper (a sheet of white bond, single-spaced, forty-seven characters per line) and four appeared on the monitor of an Apple II Plus 48k computer. Belmore was curious if reading the text on a screen might influence both the speed of reading and levels of comprehension.

The results were depressing, at least if you were an early adopter of computer technology. “These data indicate that reading texts on a computer display is not equivalent to reading the same texts on paper,” Belmore wrote. “Overall, college students took 12 percent longer to read and comprehended 47 percent less with computer-presented text.”

Excerpt from: The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi and Jonah Lehrer

💎 On there being no magic number of times an activity needs to be done to fix a bad habit (just keep doing it)

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a magic number of repetitions that result in a habit forming. Some say that you need to repeat an action fifty times or for twenty-one days, but very few researchers have actually looked at this question systematically. And those that have done tend to find that there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question. In one of the few studies to have tracked the formation of healthy habits in real-world settings, researchers studied ninety-six students who had just moved to university and were encouraged to repeat behaviours in response to consistent cues (such as ‘going for a walk after breakfast’). They found that habits formed in some of the students after eighteen days, but for some it took much longer – up to 254 days. The average was sixty-six days.

Excerpt from: Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals by Owain Service and Rory Gallagher

💎 On photos of people with dilated eyes are more attractive (but men are not sure why)

In a recent experiment, men were asked to rank how attractive they found photographs of different women’s faces. The photos were eight by ten inches, and showed women facing the camera or turned in three-quarter profile. Unbeknownst to the men, in half the photos the eyes of the women were dilated, and in the other half they were not. The men were consistently more attracted to the women with dilated eyes. Remarkably, the men had no insight into their decision making.

Excerpt from: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

💎 On how rewards can crowd out intrinsic motivation (encouraging people in relation to tasks they dislike)

To test this theory, a few years ago I ran a study in which two groups of people were asked to take part in an experiment in which they spent an afternoon picking up litter in a London park. Participants were told that they were taking part in an experiment examining how best to persuade people to look after their local parks. One group were paid handsomely for their time, while the others were only given a small amount of cash. After an hour or so of backbreaking and tedious work, everyone rated the degree to which they had enjoyed the afternoon. You might think that those clutching a large amount of well-earned cash would be more positive than those who had given their time for very little money.

In fact, the result was exactly the opposite. The average enjoyment rating of the handsomely paid group was a measly 2 out of 10, while the modestly paid group’s average ratings were a whopping 8.5. It seemed that those who had been paid well had thought, ‘Well, let me see, people usually pay me to do things I don’t enjoy. I was paid a large amount, so I must dislike tidying the park.’

Excerpt from: 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot by Richard Wiseman